PREVENTATIVE CARE PROGRAMS
Preventative care programs – sometimes called wellness programs – are becoming increasingly popular with both horse owners and vets. Rather than just treating diseases when they occur – which can be difficult and often expensive – preventative care programs (as the name suggests) aim to prevent disease from occurring in the first place by having regular vet check-ups to keep your horse healthy and happy.
In this section, learn about more about preventative care, including:
- The benefits of preventative care programs
- What should be covered in a preventative care check-up.
How to keep your foals in fine health
It's our favourite time of year – foaling season! Here at Health4Horses, we love those lanky-legged little things. But foals are vulnerable to infectious disease and it's up to us to make sure they remain as healthy as possible. Here's what you need to know.
Don't wait to vaccinate
According to the Equine Infectious Diseases Advisory Board, all horses younger than 12 months need vaccinations against:
- Herpes virus
- Hendra virus
- Tetanus is a bacterial disease that can prove fatal. Fortunately, you can keep your foal safe with vaccination. From three months of age, your foal needs two doses, not less than four weeks apart, to start their tetanus immunity.
Stop strangles before it starts
- Strangles is a highly contagious respiratory disease. To help prevent strangles taking hold, all it takes is three vaccine doses, not less than two weeks apart from three months of age.
Reduce the risks of Equine Herpes Virus
- Young horses are particularly at risk of equine herpes virus, which can cause respiratory and neurological disease. Foals need two doses, four weeks apart from three months of age with Duvaxyn EHV 1,4
Keep foals safe from deadly Hendra virus
- The Hendra virus causes a deadly viral disease that can be spread from horse to horse, and also from horse to human. There are no known treatments for Hendra virus – but you can vaccinate against it. From four months of age, foals should receive two doses, three to six weeks apart, followed by six monthly boosters
Protect your horse from foal to adult
- By the time your foal is a year old, it should have received all of the vaccinations we've discussed. From the age of 12 months, horses should receive periodic boosters for tetanus, strangles and equine herpes virus, and additional boosters for Hendra virus. Your vet can advise on the exact requirements for your horse.
Ask your vet about the vaccines you need to help protect your foal against infectious diseases.
Assessing your horse's body weight
If you have access to a set of horse weigh scales, you should weigh your horse on a regular basis. This helps you ensure your horse is within a healthy weight range and helps your vet to determine correct dosages of medications.
- If your local feed mill has scales that you can drive onto, you can weigh the combined weight of your trailer + your horse, then subtract the weight of the empty trailer from this total to obtain your horse's weight.
Using a weight tape to assess your horse's weight
You can use a "weight tape", sourced from your vet or your feed supplier, to assess your horse's weight. Wrap the tape around the horse's girth directly behind the elbow and you will find the weight designated on the tape at the point where the ends overlap. This is not a particularly accurate method, but you can improve the accuracy by doing a calculation.
- Measure the girth circumference directly behind the elbow, then measure the length of the horse from the point of its shoulder to the point of the “bum bone” (the ischium). Use the following equation to calculate your horse's weight.1
- GIRTH (cm2) X LENGTH (cm2) / 1877 = YOUR HORSE'S WEIGHT (kg)
Reference: 1. Reavell DG. Measuring and estimating the weight of horses with tapes, formulae and by visual assessment. 11, no.6 (1999): 314-317.
Assessing your horse's body condition
Regular body condition scoring helps you keep your horse in good health. You and your vet can assess your horse's body condition by both visual means and palpation (feeling the horse's fat levels with your hands).
Run your hands along the following areas to feel how much fat is present:
- Along the neck
- Along the withers
- In the crease down the back
- In the tail head area
- Over the ribs
- Behind the shoulders
Body Condition Score (BCS)
- There are different scoring systems available to assess a horse's body condition. The most commonly used ones use a scoring system of 1 to 9.
- A BCS of 1 indicates that your horse is in poor body condition (emaciated with no fat palpable, and prominence of bones such as shoulder blades, hip bones and ribs) whereas a BCS of 9 indicates that a horse is very fat.
- The ideal score in these systems is between 5 and 6.5. Keep a written record of your horse's body condition, so you can monitor any changes over time.
Benefits of Preventative Care
One of the obvious benefits of adopting a preventative care approach is to allow early identification of any problems your horse may be experiencing. This can help prevent minor problems escalating into potentially serious (and potentially costly) health issues. One of the other benefits is that the program can be tailored to your needs and those of your horse.
You and your vet can discuss what's important in maintaining your horse's health, because every horse is different. As you can imagine, the health needs of a 15-year-old horse on a small acreage used for local trail riding are likely to be quite different from those of a 4-year-old performance horse kept at a busy training facility and travelling to events each week.
What's involved in a preventative care program?
In a typical preventative care program, your vet makes scheduled visits to your property (or where your horse is kept) to perform a number of routine procedures. Depending on your horse and your needs, your vet may recommend yearly (or more frequent) visits.
At each visit your vet may:
- Perform a thorough physical examination – This will involve your vet closely examining your horse to gather important about his or her health. Your vet will take your horse's temperature, pulse and respiration and use a stethoscope to listen for normal intestinal sounds.
- Recommend blood samples – Taking blood samples at the first preventative care check-up establishes a baseline of what's “normal” for your horse, to allow comparisons further down the track. If your horse is older, or based on its medical history, other blood tests might be recommended.
- Assess body weight – Your vet will need to know your horse's weight, so if you have access to horse scales, weigh your horse on a regular basis. If scales aren't available, your vet may use a "weight tape" which estimates your horse's weight based on its girth.
- Assess body condition score – Body condition scoring evaluates your horse’s condition by looking and feeling the amount of fat in certain areas under the skin. Assessing your horse's body condition every year (or more frequently) helps identify gradual changes in your horse's health that might otherwise be missed. If body condition is increasing or decreasing, then a plan can be developed to address this (e.g. changing the amount of exercise and/or feed).
Preventative Care: What's covered?
Apart from the physical examination and assessment of your horse, the other key components of a preventative care program include:
- Horses are at risk of serious (sometimes fatal) infectious diseases. So regular vaccinations are important to help keep your horse safe. The vaccinations your horse should receive may vary depending on factors such as what he or she is used for, geographic location, contact with other horses, and any travel.
- Your vet can not only worm your horse, but can also perform testing of your horse's manure to make sure that the worming agent used is killing the parasites and that there is no resistance. Your vet can also tailor a targeted worming protocol that may allow you to worm less frequently (thus saving you time and money).
- Regular dental care is vital to ensure a healthy mouth and good alignment of teeth. Your vet will look for common problems, such as periodontal disease, tooth decay or irregular wear. Your vet may also file back any uneven surfaces or sharp points (“floating”).
- Good hoof care is extremely important so that horses can support their weight and perform the tasks we ask of them. Your vet will examine and assess your horse's hooves, assess your horse for lameness, and perform any treatments that are necessary.
Feed and nutrition
- Depending on your horse's body condition score, your vet may recommend changes to what you feed your horse and how much. Your vet may wish to inspect the feed you give your horse and where it is kept. Similarly, an inspection of your horse's water source might also be useful.
- Your vet may inspect the environment where you keep your horse, including stalls, paddocks, pastures and exercise areas. This can help to identify potential risks to your horse (e.g. parasites or environmental hazards).